"The sleep of the spinning top" : masculinity, labor, and subjectivity in Thomas Hardy's Jude the obscure
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This paper explores and interrogates late Victorian anxieties concerning the issues of masculinity and labor, taking Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure as a key text in this discourse. I argue that Hardy, drawing upon his own experiences, offers a meditation on the differing Victorian modes of masculinity outlined and embodied in the thought of John Henry Newman and Thomas Carlyle, and in doing so, constructs a dialectical tension between already outmoded, yet remarkably persistent, answers to the questions and pressures of modernity. Through the use of one of the text’s central images—that of Christminster and its accompanying Gothic architecture—Hardy creates an opposition between an idealized intellectual labor and the earthy reality of manual labor. Both forms—figured in either the heroic and organic terms of Carlyle or the reserved, tradition-bound reaction of Newman—represent the ideal that allows Jude to live, but also the force that leads to his death. Therefore, in the clash between the ideal and real, the dialectic fails to deliver a possible synthesis, and instead spirals restlessly in the darkened gaps of self-negation. At the same time, because the specter of a crude social and biological Darwinism consciously haunts the edges of the story, the dialectic never stops demanding a synthesis if Jude is to discover the grounding for a fully integrated identity or ethics. The central question for Hardy thus becomes one of form: For a modern masculine subjectivity to take hold, external social forms must have a connective vitality with interior dispositions, a proposition that Hardy views as a near impossibility.